Distance: 786,11KM - Selective section: 326,60KM
A whole range
Full variety of surfaces. The eighth stage was not only the longest, after some rest during a “no race” day, but also the most challenging one, as it offered a full variety of surfaces. The first high dunes set an initial challenge for those with little driving experience, and after catching the correct direction one faced a range of new obstacles – not just sand, but also dry riverbeds, ravines, canyons and steppes. The closer to finish, the faster one needed to move.
@ OF NOTE
# Bikes: Kevin Benavides wins the first Chinese stage
# Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah seven out of seven
# Trucks: Viazovich cracks, Shibalov bites
# Tomorrow: Sand merchant…
Bikes: Kevin Benavides win first Chinese stage
For the bike competitors, who had never ridden in the Gobi Desert before, the big question was ‘how would the dunes here compare to others they’d ridden elsewhere in the world’? This evening Kevin Benavides gave us the answer – they are just like the famous Fiambala ones in Argentina. Feeling right at home on the first Chinese special, the Monster Energy Honda Team rider came from behind to win the stage, just 42 seconds ahead of another sand specialist, Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha Rally Team) and 3’05 in front of an out-of-contention Paulo Goncalves (Hero Motorsports Team).
Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM Factory) should have been reasonably happy to maintain a reasonably ‘comfortable’ overall lead, but a crash in the special cast a shadow over his day. This evening he loses time to both the Benavides brothers. Teammate Luciano (Red Bull KTM Factory) moves up to second place overall (at 21:19), while thanks to this stage win, Kevin jumps up from 6th to 3rd (at 25:18). Predictably, the big loser on the day was the man obliged to open in the sand, Oriol Mena (Hero Motorsports Team). The Spaniard slips down from 2nd to 7th overall (at 32:15) – a tumble down the rankings that is an indication of just how close it is between the pack chasing after Sunderland. With two stages remaining in the dunes of the Gobi Desert and the Argentinian brothers maintaining the pressure, there’s still everything to play for.
Cars: Al-Attiyah seven out of seven
It is the big news of the week in the car class: never in the history of the SILK WAY RALLY, or in any other international event of this standing come to that, has a crew achieved such a run of stage victories… Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing Overdrive) have literally flown over this 9th edition. Especially impressive when you consider that this first stage in China, the longest of the rally, was anything but a stroll in the park. Sand as far as the eye could see, giant dunes and camel grass: there was plenty in the mix to catch out even the most accomplished driver, already far from fresh after by nearly 4000 kilometres of rally. At the finish, in front of a giant statue of Genghis Khan, Nasser Al-Atiyah was looking a little like an all-conquering warrior. Victorious but humble. “There are two stages to race from here to the finish in Dunhuang and anything could still happen,” admitted the three times Dakar winner. “We aren’t especially trying to win every stage, but we are driving at our pace. We’ve seen a slice of Chinese desert today and I repeat it isn’t over yet.”
Second again today, the Dutchman Eric Van Loon (Toyota Hilux Overdrive) was able to follow the tracks of the master but also count on the calm efficiency of his own co-driver, Frenchman Sébastien De Launay, to beat off the attacks coming from Mathieu Serradori and Fabian Lurquin (Buggy CR6 SRT), victims of a puncture in the middle of the special. While the Chinese driver Han Wei (Buggy Geely SMG) and the Frenchman crew of Pélichet and Larroque (Buggy Optimus Raid Lynx) complete the day’s top 5, problems with Liu Kun’s (Buggy Hanwei SMG), wishbone put the two crews into a close fight for the 2nd place, 1 hour behind Al-Attiyah.
Trucks: Viazovich cracks, Shibalov bites
His tough determination forces respect. In the lead since the start in Irkutsk, last Monday, Siarhey Viazovich (MAZ) has fought off a Kamaz-Master Armada that has rarely been tested to such a degree on a race that they are used to dominating. The driver from Minsk started these last three stages with the firm intention of continuing that resistance but unfortunately the first dunes broke his dreams in two. Rolling off a high crest, the red giant came to an abrupt halt. Falling on its wheels it looked like they would be able to carry on their way but a closer inspection revealed that the roll-cage had given way – impossible to repair. The brave Belarusian was forced to retire. Suddenly the way was open for the ‘Kamaz boys’, with a red carpet unrolling before them over the infinite dunes. And it was the youngest, Anton Shibalov who seized the occasion, posting his first victory on this rally, following steering problems for Andrei Karginov, his most threatening rival overall.
STAT OF THE DAY
When a rally crosses three different countries, in the case of the 2019 SILK WAY RALLY, Siberia, Mongolia and China, it is inevitable that there is going to be some road sections between terrain suitable to run timed selective sections. For cars and trucks it is not the most enjoyable part of rally-raid, but at least the crews can have a chat, or sit back and enjoy the scenery roll by. For bikes however it is a whole different story. Rally bikes are narrowly focused machines designed to be ridden very fast over difficult terrain. On the road, restricted to local speed limits, they are something approaching torture. Which is why the motorcycle federation, the FIM, in accordance with the organisers, have permitted bike competitors to load their machines onto their assistance vehicles for much of the liaison, which has brought them from the end of the last special in Mongolia to the start of the first one in the Gobi Desert. That’s a grand total of 981.37 kilometres of what could be quite literally be described as a ‘pain in the bum’ that the bike riders have so far been spared.
Kevin Benavides (Arg/Monster Energy Honda Team) 1st
“Today I feel really good. I really enjoyed the first stage in China. It was very different from what we’ve had until now. More navigation, more desert, the dunes… It is an amazing place here in China. I am happy with my work today. We have two more days and my goal is to try and recover time.”
Adrien Van Beveren (Fr/Yamaha Rally Team) 2nd
“I find again my kind of terrain – more technical and sandy. The second half I slowed down a bit so I shouldn’t have to open tomorrow. At the refuelling I was a little bit in the front. It is always good to win a stage but sometimes you have to think about the strategy. For the race it is better not to open tomorrow and Kevin can do a good job with that.”
Jose Cornejo (Chi/Monster Energy Honda Team) 4th
“A good day for me. I’m not sure of the result yet but I think it should be the best for me so far on this rally. It is what I like best – dunes, sand. I had fun and enjoyed it. No problems with the bike, no problems with the navigation. Everything perfect.”
Eric Van Loon (P-B/Toyota Hilux Overdrive) 2nd
“I remember the Gobi Desert being beautiful but not this magnificent. We drove in a superb special. The dunes were incredibly high. In certain places we were incapable of following the tracks of the bikes all the way to the top and had to make our own route. The camel grass was hard on the car… and on my neck. I thank my co-driver for the excellent job he did today. I have no hesitation in saying he is the best navigator I’ve had by my side in the last 12 years!”
Mathieu Serradori (Fra/Buggy CR6 SRT) 3rd: “Above all: thanks to Anton Shibalov for having towed us until the bivouac because we ran out of petrol just after the finish of the special. This morning we started with the idea of really attacking. This special was everything I like!! Like previous days we set off to fight with Nasser and Van Loon. We pulled back 2 minutes on Van Loon when we punctured. It was our first puncture of the rally and we took 4 minutes to restart. Then we drove really hard to make up as much time as possible. We have given it all over these last two specials to try and win a stage…”
Jérôme Pélichet (Fra/Buggy Optimus Raid Lynx) 5th: “This morning I made a lot of errors on the first 50 kms. A disaster! Then we go our focus back and then as soon as we started in the dunes the car began overheating. We stopped and realised that one of our two radiators was broken. So we spent the rest of the stage attacking … and stopping to let the engine cool down. And in the end we moved up to 2nd overall. I would never have dreamed of that. But Han Wei is not far away and we are in his back garden. So I would say if we finish on the podium in Dunhuang that would be great! »
Anton Shibalov (RUS/Kamaz-Master) 1st: “On crossing a dune I saw Viazovich stopped over to my left. The crew seemed ok and I couldn’t see any damage to the truck. We carried on our way without taking any risks. The dunes were much more abrupt than on previous years. The nose of the truck hit every crest before jumping over the obstacle. Fortunately, we didn’t have to stop.”
STAGE 9: ALASHAN — JIAYUGUAN
Total distance: 501,20 km
Selective section: 290,30 km
30% dunes; 10% sand; 60% earth
The ninth stage starts from the finish point of previous day. It will be a fast and beautiful route, mostly set along sandy roads. This is the moment when one gets to admire amazing fixed dunes of Gobi Desert. The next part on your way to finish is slower, as bumps and dunettes are mixed here with dry riverbeds, but the last kilometers will be very fast.